Baptists and the American Civil War: May 31, 1865

Texas Civil War MapAmong the Southern states, the Civil War ended the latest in Texas. With the defeat of the Confederacy, former and late Texas governor and Baptist layman Sam Houston turned out to be right in having refused to go along with secession, even though his refusal had led to his ouster from office mere weeks before the war began.

With the war over, Baptists of Texas strive to return to some sense of normalcy. One tentative step is taken this day with the introduction of a new Baptist paper, the Texas Christian Herald, published by the Texas Baptist State Convention. Unfortunately, the effort is of naught, as the first issue is the one and only issue produced. In December the few assets of the enterprise are sold, and a new paper under private ownership is introduced: the Texas Baptist Herald. Many changes take place in the Texas Baptist newspaper scene in the decades following.

Meanwhile, Tennessean and Baptist layman Thomas Thomas Washington Walthal (1841-1925) is one of many Confederate veterans who, having surrendered and been paroled in recent weeks and months, returns home. His obituary tersely summarizes the occasion in words that could be applied to many other former soldiers: “Walking the greater portion of the distance, Mr. Walthal returned to his home from the conflict on May 31, 1865, emaciated, worn and diseased, a mere skeleton in comparison to the splendid, hardy physique that went forth to battle four years prior. He immediately set about rebuilding and rehabilitating the family home against the destruction and waste caused by the Federal troops depredation.”

Of his Baptist faith, the obituary, as such articles often do, speaks strongly of his religious faith:

Mr. Walthal was a member of the Spring Creek Baptist Church for more than 50 years. Fifteen or more years of that time he was superintendent of Sunday School and had served the church in other capacities. His clean, charitable nature merited nothing but the highest esteem from his neighbors and friends. He was the perfect head of a devoted family and his many splendid characteristics are reflected in the sturdy sons and daughters, who at all times bestowed upon him unstinted devotion and affection. His devoted helpmeet of more than fifty-one years, although crushed by his passing, philosophically accepts his death as the will of the Almighty, whom both have unfalteringly served.

Walthal is one of many former Confederates of the Baptist faith who survive the war and contribute to local Baptist life as active laypersons.

Sources: “Texas Baptist Herald,” Cathcart, Baptist Encyclopedia (link); “Texas Baptist and Herald,” Texas State Historical Association (link); “Thomas Washington Walthal,” obituary, Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle October 6, 1925 pp 1 & 8 (link)